Mobilising indigenous resources for anthropologically designed HIV-prevention and behaviour-change interventions in southern Africa

  • Edward C Green
  • Cedza Dlamini
  • Nicole C D’Errico
  • Allison Ruark
  • Zoe Duby


HIV prevention is often implemented as if African culture were either nonexistent or a series of obstacles to overcome in order to achieve an effective, gender-equitable, human rights-based set of interventions. Similarly, traditional or indigenous leaders, such as chiefs and members of royal families, have been largely excluded from HIV/AIDS responses in Africa. This qualitative study used focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with traditional leaders and ‘ritual specialists’ to better understand cultural patterns and ways of working with, rather than against, culture and traditional leaders in HIV-prevention efforts. The research was carried out in four southern African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland). The purpose was to discover what aspects of indigenous leadership and cultural resources might be accessed and developed to influence individual behaviour as well as the prevailing community norms, values, sanctions and social controls that are related to sexual behaviour. The indigenous leaders participating in the research largely felt bypassed and marginalised by organised efforts to prevent HIV infections and also believed that HIV-prevention programmes typically confronted, circumvented, criticised or condemned traditional culture. However, indigenous leaders may possess innovative ideas about ways to change individuals’ sexual behaviour in general. The participants discussed ways to revive traditional social structures and cultural mechanisms as a means to incorporate HIV-prevention and gender-sensitivity training into existing cultural platforms, such as rites of passage, chiefs’ councils and traditional courts.

Keywords: anthropology; behaviour; community-based; cultural beliefs; indigenous communities; sexual behaviour; traditional leaders

African Journal of AIDS Research 2009, 8(4): 389–400

Author Biographies

Edward C Green
Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, 9 Bow Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, United States
Cedza Dlamini
Ubuntu Institute, Draft CB House, Pin Mill Farm, 164 Katherine Street, Sandton, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Nicole C D’Errico
Graduate School of Humanities, Private Bag, University of Cape Town, Cape Town 7701, South Africa
Allison Ruark
Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, 9 Bow Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, United States
Zoe Duby
Departments of Anthropology and Epidemiology, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, United States

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445